The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
The New Beginning
This second beginning was in many respects very different from the first: there is nothing here about a garden, or a forbidden tree, or a tempting serpent. So it would appear from the letter of the narrative; yet, lo, as we go along the courses of the history, we find that they are every one here, only under different names, yet ending in precisely identical effects! So much for variety in human history! Believe me, there is no vital variety; it is all superficial and apparent, not profound and real. A beautiful sight was the altar which Noah built upon the reappearing earth. Beautiful to think that there was a Church before there was a house! If you look at that first new building in the new world you will see it expand until it becomes a sanctuary wide as the earth, and all men are gathered in loving piety within its ample wails. Sweet was the savour that rose from earth to heaven! And as the smoke curled upward to the approving sky the primeval blessing was repronounced; the seasons were confirmed in their revolutions; and all things seemed to begin again in unclouded hope. Was there, then, a new human nature, and did God succeed better in his second experiment than in his first? No. The serpent is still here! Listen: "The imagination of man"s heart is evil from his youth." The first temptation was from without, the second was from within. This is the verdict of history. In the first account we read that man was made in the image and likeness of God; and in the second we read that the imagination of his heart is evil from his youth. This, then, must be the accepted fact, and all Divine interpositions must be based upon it. The first thing we learn after this solemn declaration is that there is to be no more smiting of every living thing, plainly showing that mere destruction is a failure. I do not say that destruction is undeserved or unrighteous, but that it Isaiah, as a reformative arrangement, a failure as regards the salvation of survivors. We can see men slain for doing wrong, and can in a day or two after the event do the very things which cost them their lives! It might be thought that one such flood as this would have kept the world in order for ever, whereas men now doubt whether there ever was such a flood, and repeat all the sins of which the age of Noah was guilty. You would think that to see a man hanged would put an end to ruffianism for ever; whereas, history goes to show that within the very shadow of the gallows men hatch the most detestable and alarming crimes. Set it down as a fact that punishment, though necessary even in its severest forms, can never regenerate the heart of man. From this point, then, we have to deal with a history, the fundamental fact of which is that all the actors are as bad as they can possibly be. "There is none righteous, no not one." "There is not a just man upon the earth that doeth good and sinneth not."
It is remarkable, however, that though God will not any more smite every living thing, he has surrounded human life with the most solemn sanctions: "And surely your blood of your lives [your life-blood] will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man"s brother will I require the life of man." Under the old dispensation if an ox gored a man it was to be killed. The sovereignty of human life is with God, and secondarily with whomsoever he may appoint. This arrangement follows the account of the flood with remarkable propriety, because when human life has been destroyed on a large scale the value of it might seem to be worthless. Why quibble about the morality of killing one man when ten thousand have been swallowed up in a flood? But God says in effect—Every human life is of great value; every man must set great store by his own life; and every man must consider himself in a high degree responsible for the life of his brother,—"Of every man"s brother will I require the life of man." Thus, too, he would seem to correct the notion which the destructiveness of this flood might seem to justify, viz, that he himself is careless as to the value and destiny of human life. His answer to this must be found in his Providence and his Redemption. If any man would know what value is set on man by his Maker let him study the life, the sacrifice, and the intercession of Jesus Christ.
You will probably ask whether capital punishment is not enjoined as the law of States in ver6: "Whoso sheddeth man"s blood by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made he man." Wherever in civilised countries there is capital crime there must be capital punishment. But capital punishment may mean other and more than the signification usually attached to the expression. To shut a man up in life-long confinement is capital punishment. To imprison him for the whole term of his natural life is in reality to shed his blood. The mere manner of doing it is a trifle; the solemn and tragical fact is that the murderer is seized and held for ever by the strong and righteous arm of the law. That is capital punishment, and conscience and reason conspire to proclaim it just.
These solemn directions having been given about human life, a covenant, remarkable for beauty and tenderness, is established by the Almighty.
"And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; and with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth. And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood, neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.
"And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth."
In speaking to Noah, God did not then create the bow; he turned it into the sign of a holy bond. The fear is that we may have the bond and not the oath. We may see physical causes producing physical effects, and yet may see no moral significations passing through the common scenery of earth and sky. Cultivate the spirit of moral interpretation if you would be wise and restful: then the rainbow will keep away the flood; the fowls of the air will save you from anxiety; and the lilies of the field will give you an assurance of tender care. Why, everything is yours! The daisy you trod upon just now was telling you that if God so clothe the grass of the field he will much more clothe the child that bears his own image.
Very beautiful is this idea of God giving us something to look at, in order to keep our faith steady. He knows that we need pictures, and rests, and voices, and signs, and these he has well supplied. We might have forgotten the word, but we cannot fail to see the bow; every child sees it, and exclaims at the sight with glad surprise. If any one would tell the child the sweet meaning of the bow, it might move his soul to a still higher ecstacy! And so with all other things God has given us as signs and tokens: the sacred Book, the water of baptism, the bread and wine, the quiet Sabbath, the house of prayer;—all these have deeper meanings than are written in their names; search for those meanings, keep them, and you will be rich.
And now, you say, all will be well. The spared family will be as a Church of God. Noah will walk before the Lord with a reverent heart, and, like his great-grandfather, Enoch, will go up to heaven as the morning dew goes up to the sun. Alas! it is not so. "Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: and he drank of the wine, and was drunken." You cry "Shame," and go out and do exactly the same thing! You said that if you were spared in a certain affliction you would be a good man ever after: you were spared, and there is not a meaner soul on the earth at this moment. You said that if a certain calamity could be averted, you would walk before God with an honest heart it was averted, and you have never prayed since! Then be careful not to blame Noah, for the severity which injures him slays us. Herein is God more merciful than Prayer of Manasseh, for man would have said, "The bond is broken, and the bow is no longer a pledge"; yet God spared the drunkard, and kept the bow as a token in the cloud. Let us say that "his mercy endureth for ever." Let the house of Aaron say Song of Solomon, and the house that is our own, yea, let everything that hath breath, say, "his mercy endureth for ever."
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 9". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24